The jungle city of Bassakesh holds the keys to the future of the Vreski Empire. It is the sole source of the vedegga dye, which generates enormous wealth for those who control its production and trade. But Bassakesh is more than a collection of buildings and businesses. It is a place where many journeys start and end, a place where histories converge and explode.
For Delesse, the Governor's daughter, the city is soon to be a place of memories. Contracted to marry Loken, heir to one of the most powerful Clans in the Empire, she fears change and dreams of love. Her betrothal celebrations bring together many people whose lives will be marked forever by events in the city.
To Loken, Bassakesh represents the promise of a new beginning. He acts as his father's dutiful son while trying to escape his family's plots by gambling and whoring. Meeting Delesse changes his world and gives him a reason to rebel: love. When his uncle's plans for disrupting the vedegga harvest go awry, Loken chooses to stay in Bassakesh and help save the city from the plague.
Julyeis, the housekeeper of the city's most exclusive brothel, sees Bassakesh as her home. She was born there after her Servant parents escaped the Clan Strife and came to the city for refuge. For her, the plague is a disaster that takes her beyond the city walls on a trek to a new life she neither wants nor believes in.
Shapeis sees the city as a place to work. Sold to Varoul, the brothel's owner, for six months profit, he has become cynical of the world and longs for something more - though until the arrival of Kebezzu, a feral Servant who preaches the words of the mystical Burning Woman, he has no idea what could fill that longing.
Kebezzu has a mission: her work is to lead the Servant folk from their serfdom and take them into a future where they can be free to practice their Service as they see fit. Her message is the prophecies of the Burning Woman and her tool is Sosunda, a child she claims is the Burning Woman's reincarnation. For her, Bassakesh is one more stop on a pilgramage; when plague comes to the city, she believes she is vindicated and convinces many of the surviving Servants to follow her on a trek northwards to liberation.
Bassakesh is no more than a place of opportunity and profit for Loetopas. For his elder brother Puusen, the vedegga profits are a means to gaining the ultimate prize - the imperial throne itself. Puusen sends Loetopas and his son Loken to Bassakesh with a special gift, an illness to disrupt the vedegga harvest which will reap him vast profit from his dye stockpiles.
For Feyn, the Emperor's mistress and also Delesse's aunt, the city is a place to play politics: she has old scores to settle with Loetopas, and a debt to her youngest sister, Delesse's mother, which she hopes to repay by doing everything in her power to frustrate Loetopas's plans for the Governor's family and the city - whatever those plans may be.
Between them all stands Tuuke, for whom Bassakesh has been a revelation. Hired by the Governor as the city's Guardsman, his job is to keep the peace, and to keep the machinations of the Imperial Court away from the city. With the help of his childhood friend Behin, Commander of the Imperial troops sent to secretly protect Feyn, he has to try and piece together the threats against his city, then act to save the city when the illness brought to the city by Loetopas turns into a deadly epidemic.
And after the chaos? Revenge.
But before Tuuke can take revenge, before Feyn can thwart Puusen's bid for the throne, before Loken and Delesse can marry, before Julyeis and Shapeis can return home to build a better world for Servants and Clansfolk and Commonfolk together, they must discover the real truth, the real story of what has happened, and why.
Maeduul knows the truth. A Servant bred for a purpose, a gift from the Emperor himself to Delesse's mother when she married the Governor of Bassakesh, a witness to the execution of the original Susunda over a burning pyre - Maeduul is the Story Keeper, the one who keeps the myths and legends of the Servants alive, who offers teaching and insight to those with the ears to listen. For she understands that civilisations are made of more than people and cities: she knows that a civilisation is the weave of a society's beliefs and world-views. And for too long the peoples of the Empire has been divided by conflicting stories about who they are, where they came from and why they are here.
Together Feyn, Maeduul and Tuuke, with Delesse and Loken, must travel upriver to another city - Viyame: the place where Loetopas escaped to when plague broke out in Bassakesh; and the city where Kebezzu next plans to preach, bringing Julyeis, Shapeis and little Sosunda with her. A city where a greater crisis must be resolved.
For as they travel, news arrives that the Emperor has died. He leaves no heir, and no successor. Now the time comes for Loken's father and uncle to make their long-planned bid for the throne. Feyn, with Loken and Delesse by her side, must oppose them. With Julyeis's help Kebezzu is captured, Shapeis is rescued from the ferals, and the secrets of Sosunda and the Burning Woman are revealed.
The revelations allows Tuuke the chance to gain his revenge for the terror Loetopas brought to Bassakesh. Yet to take that revenge and prevent Puusen seizing the throne, Loken and Delesse must first agree to risk their liberty, their future together and their very lives in a confrontation with the man who helped to murder Loken's brother in front of him many years before: his own uncle.
Copyright © 2010 Rik Roots. All rights reserved.